Local Foods and Specialty Crops

(April 8, 2020) IL Farmers Market Association releases COVID-19 Toolkit with guidebooks and signs featuring best practice recommendations for social distancing and enhanced sanitation. The toolkit is helpful for Farmers Market Managers, Farmers Market Vendors, and Customers. You can find those resources here.

Health and Safety on Specialty Crop Farms 

H-2 Visa Applicant Processing

USDA has been working diligently with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19.  Today the State Department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world.   USDA applauds these modifications and the expansion of interview waiver eligibility to ensure that the majority of H-2 processing can continue.  Specifically:

  • Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. 
  • Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no potential ineligibility.  
  • This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months (increased from 12 months), and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.
  • We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview.

(April 2, 2020) You can read the most updated FAQ document from the U.S. Department of Labor here.

USDA continues to work with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce while protecting the health and safety of federal employees and the individuals seeking entry under the H-2 programs.  If there are specific labor-related questions please email aglabor@usda.gov. 

Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA)

The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) was enacted at the request of the fruit and vegetable industry to promote fair trade in the industry. PACA protects businesses dealing in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables by establishing and enforcing a code of fair business practices and by helping companies resolve business disputes. The Agricultural Marketing Service within USDA administers PACA and recently released a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for fruit and vegetable growers.

Direct-to-Consumer Sales

Illinois Farm Bureau wants to help members convey the message that Illinois farmers are open for business. Farming doesn’t stop, even during a pandemic like COVID-19.  Crops must still be planted, and livestock must receive the care they need. We know that some of our members have food products readily available for sale. Did you know you can utilize resources available through the Illinois Specialty Growers Association to create an online presence for your business and sell your products online to local buyers? Check out the Market Maker system and create your profile now. If you need assistance, check out this handy resource guide.

(March 26, 2020) USDA Food & Nutrition Service

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced additional flexibilities and waivers that support states making it easier for children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities to get food during the COVID-19 national emergency and remove administrative roadblocks for the dedicated local staff who serve them. These changes are in line with USDA’s commitment to keep Americans safe, secure, and healthy during this national emergency and explore all options to keep kids fed during this unprecedented time.  

(April 6, 2020) Finding Meals While Schools are Closed 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the launch of an online tool – the “Meals for Kids” Site Finder – to help families find meals for children while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. This is the latest in a series of swift actions USDA has taken to keep children and low-income individuals fed during the ongoing health crisis.  

The Meals for Kids interactive map directs people to local sites where kids can get free meals. The site finder currently lists more than 20,000 meal sites from 23 states, and more sites will be added as states submit data each week. The map is available in both English and Spanish at www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids. 

University of Illinois Extension Resources

(March 25, 2020) Farmer Relief Fund through American Farmland Trust

American Farmland Trust announced yesterday a Farmer Relief Fund that will provide $1,000 grants to small and medium size farms that sell at farmers markets or to restaurants, caterers, schools, stores, or makers who use farm products. Applications are open through April 23 and can be found here.

If you have additional questions, reach out to our Associate Director of Food System Development, Raghela Scavuzzo.

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